Commentary: United Uganda Opposition Paramount In Defeating Dictator Museveni
Gen. Museveni; No Longer At Ease....
The politics of independent Uganda has been characterized by intimidation, physical violence and broken promises instead of liberal democracy and resolving disputes by peaceful negotiations.
This atmosphere has: undermined political stability and socio-economic development; constrained human capital formation and quality leadership largely through brain drain; and, violated human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Without peace development doesn’t occur; without development there is no peace and with neither there is no respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
This explains in large part why Uganda that is very well endowed in human and natural resources and strategically located at the heart of Africa has remained a least developed country vulnerable to internal and external shocks even after 50 years of formal independence.
In a rush to defeat the Democratic Party led by Ben Kiwanuka, Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and Kabaka Yekka (KY) entered into a marriage of convenience and swept issues of major difference under the carpet hoping they would be forgotten. Some elements in Buganda region believed the referendum on “lost counties” would not take place because Obote could not afford to lose KY. The "lost counties" referred to territory in Bunyoro transferred to Buganda during British colonial rule.
When Buganda lost the referendum and the territory was restored to Bunyoro, there were political repercussions that forced the Lukiiko to pass a hurriedly drafted resolution demanding that the central government under Obote quit Buganda soil within less than 10 days. Instead of negotiating a peaceful settlement, the Lukiiko decision was interpreted by the central government as an act of rebellion that should be stopped (T. V. Sathyamurthy 1986).
The military violence that followed led to serious political and constitutional changes in 1966 and 1967 that set the stage for an attempted assassination of President Obote in 1969 and eventual overthrow of UPC government by Amin in 1971.
Amin gave 18 reasons why the UPC government had been overthrown, promising that as a professional soldier he would return to the barracks as soon as elections had taken place. He broke that promise and was declared president for life by the Defense Council.
Throughout his eight and half years in power, Amin ruled by murder, intimidation, looting and invading neighboring Tanzania with the help of mercenaries from Sudan and DRC and foreign troops from Libya. Just as he came to power through violence, Amin was removed from power by violent military forces of Tanzanian soldiers and Uganda rebels with heavy losses of lives and properties.
By 1979, the culture of verbal and physical violence had triumphed over peaceful negotiations. Instead of settling disputes among the legislative, executive and military commission branches of government by negotiating a win-win solution, Presidents Yusuf Lule and Godfrey Binaisa were violently overthrown and the Military Commission eventually took over, thereby defeating the democratic process that had begun at the Moshi conference in Tanzania, albeit unsatisfactory in some respects such as refusing some delegates to attend the conference.
The 1980 general elections which DP had hoped to win were marked by violence, intimidation, exclusion of candidates from registering and bribery. The results though passed in favor of UPC by the Commonwealth team of observers were contentious and rejected especially by the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) led by Yoweri Museveni; his party had won one parliamentary seat.
Instead of waiting for the next elections in five years’ time, the losers chose violence to defeat UPC. A five-year bloody guerrilla war ensued from February 1981 to January 1986 and centered in Luwero Triangle. At the beginning of the war Luwero Triangle had a population of 1.5 million according to the 1980 census. At the end of the war an estimated 700,000 people lost their lives (Africa Events, March 1986) and the destruction of infrastructure such as water supplies was extensive.
The economic and social hardship, condemnation of human rights violations and withdrawal of donor financial and technical assistance contributed to the overthrow of the second Obote regime by a wing of the national army which was itself violently overthrown six months later in January 1986 by Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) whose political wing was the National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Upon assumption of power as the new president, Museveni made two promises. He would stay in power for a short time to restore security and his development policies would be based on a home grown Ten Point Program which was contained in his book titled "Selected Articles on the Uganda Resistance War" published in 1985.
The NRM government was given four years to December 1990 within which to restore security and go for elections. Towards the end of 1990 Museveni asked for an extension of five years to tie up security loose ends and prepare a new Constitution. Members of Parliament and the general public objected. Museveni was saved by the late Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga who appealed to Ugandans to give Museveni an extension of his term. “He made a passionate but strong appeal for giving Museveni an extra five years in order to stabilize the country and arrange for orderly succession” (Daily Monitor, February 16, 2006).
When the five-year term ended, Museveni refused to go, arguing that “You don’t just tell the freedom fighter to go like you are chasing a chicken thief out of the house”.
On other occasions he has told Ugandans that he killed a beast and he won’t allow others to enjoy the meat. In preparation for 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections, Museveni seems poised to be the only candidate for NRM and possibly in the general elections, fearing that he might lose if others are allowed to contest against him at the primary level and in the general elections under a multi-party dispensation.
Under pressure from the international community, Museveni dropped in mid-1987 the ten point program that conflicted with stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP). Later on Museveni also agreed to hold elections every five years starting in 1996. However, all the elections of 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011 have been conducted at gun point and severe intimidation.
In 1996, when Museveni realized he might lose to Paul Ssemogerere he took two major steps: harassing Ssemogerere from campaigning especially in the western region which he claimed to be his back yard and announcing that if he lost he would go back to the bush and cause a human crisis that Ugandans would never forget. Let us illustrate the outcomes of his threats with elections in Ntungamo district in 1996 and Rukungiri district in 2001.
Linda de Hoyos wrote that “In the Ntungamo district, Museveni’s birth place, the government was forced by a growing political revolt of the Bairu ethnic majority in the district to send in the military to ‘keep law and order’ – that is, enforce the vote for Museveni’s chosen candidate, a Hima Tutsi like Museveni himself. This also failed, with the Bairu candidate, Patrick Buriiku, winning. But no sooner were those results announced, than Museveni deployed more troops to the scene, and by the end of the week, the local election commission reported that Museveni’s candidate John Karazarwe had won by a measly 0.6% of the vote” (Executive Intelligence Review May 22, 1998).
In 2001 Dr. Kizza Besigye announced he was contesting the presidency against Museveni. Museveni vowed he would defeat Besigye even in his home constituency of Rukungiri. He sent troops to Rukungiri commanded by Museveni’s son Muhoozi Kaenerugaba.
They searched from house to house and confiscated voting cards from Besigye supporters. At a rally of Besigye supporters in Rukungiri town one person was shot dead and others injured. The message was delivered loud and clear and Museveni "won."
In 2005, then Chief of Defense Forces, General Aronda Nyakairima issued a threatening statement to retired army officers to the effect that “Those who choose to turn against the Commander in Chief, I promise that the response will be so, so terrible”(Daily Monitor November 1, 2005).
In 2011 millions of Uganda voters were simply prevented from voting in elections opposition declared fraudulent. There are also allegations that foreigners voted for Museveni in 2011 elections.
Museveni has used excessive force with impunity for a long time for various reasons including: lack of support in the country; tacit support of some development partners; weak non-violent organizations; and, above all, the disunity of opposition parties.
Thankfully, the situation is changing, albeit slowly.
The security forces are beginning to re-examine their role in politics; donors are showing disapproval and acting by withdrawing support; and, organizations dedicated to non-violence like United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) are mobilizing for mass civil resistance through civic education.
The Hague Conference in November 2013, brought together for the first time individual Ugandans from home and in the Diaspora. The four regions of Uganda, all the major religions and all demographic categories were represented. It was resolved that non-resistance means be used in the first instance to unseat the failed NRM regime. The subsequent meeting took place in London on June 28-29, 2014 with skype facilities for those who could not attend physically and receipt of comments on the conference document which had been transmitted to all well in advance for their comments. A road map on the way forward was adopted.
However, all these welcome changes will not produce the desired outcomes, unless opposition parties come together and speak with one voice under capable leadership with impeccable record and experience in public governance.
Experience has demonstrated that without the opposition parties coming together, such as occurred in Zambia under Frederick Chiluba and in Kenya under Mwai Kibaki the ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP) in Zambia and the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in Kenya never would have lost presidential and parliamentary elections.
It is also true that if Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU- PF) and Zimbabwe African Peoples Union Patriotic Front (ZAPU- PF) had not come together they would have had a difficult time in forcing the illegal government of Ian Smith, who unilaterally declared "independence" (UDI) in 1965, to the negotiating table in London.
Similarly, without the coalition of the African National Congress (ANC), the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and later the Inkatha Party of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, it would have been harder to defeat the apartheid Nationalist Party through negotiations. This coalition in concert with the international community including through imposing sanctions on the apartheid regime hastened the demise of the F. W. De Klerk’s government and ushered in a new era led by South Africa's majority population.
NRM is in deep trouble at home and abroad and can easily be defeated; however the opposition parties and organizations at home and abroad must come together under one umbrella.
The people of East Timor, Iran and Philippines liberated themselves by non-violent means – after violent strategies had failed – because they came together and got rid of oppressive and unpopular regimes.
Ipso facto, with unity, determination and capable leadership NRM will be defeated and Uganda can return to an environment of peace, security, equality, liberty, justice, prosperity, dignity and happiness for all.
Eric Kashambuzi is international consultant on development issues. He lives in New York, USA.